Wednesday 21 July 2010

So I went to...

... the Brits Unpublished 2010.  Did I mention it...??

My friend, Fiona or Fin, and I had standard tickets; complimentary standard tickets, but standard nonetheless.  The difference was that we didn’t get the dinner and the champers.  We did get access to the VIP lounge, however, and to watch the glitz and glamour of the awards ceremony with the other standard guests seated at the balcony.

I thought the awards ceremony would be interesting, motivating and possibly emotional.  But it was the VIP lounge which really took my fancy.  There, I’d engage the perfect agent in conversation and we’d both quickly realise (with great excitement on both parts) that my novel was exactly the story for which he or she was currently searching and actually, if I didn’t mind walking this way, said agent already had a publisher in mind and why didn’t we go over and have a chat now?

Failing that, the opportunity to hand over my first page, neatly stapled to my business card, to an agent accepting submissions would have made me very happy too.

Posh frocks on, we emerged from the Jubilee line to the surprisingly impressive O2 Arena. I don’t know what I’d expected; something  less, well, permanent I suppose.  We entered to find an array of bars.  Food.  We hadn’t eaten, only landing in London from Leeds an hour or so earlier.  The bar menu was limited, we were running out of time, we settled for a drink.

The VIP Lounge was to be open between 6.30 and 7.45pm.  We rushed upstairs, fifteen minutes after opening, we'd been chatting.  It was quite sparse save for a few Romans wandering around, keen to draw our attention to the work of some published authors.

Perhaps the VIPs were a little late.

We ordered our drinks and turned to find a few of the Romans leading the few remaining people out of the lounge. I recognised one.  It was Geraldine Cooke whom I’d had the pleasure of meeting at the York Writers’ Festival.  She’s brilliantly terrifying and absolutely charming wrapped into one.  She told me I wrote like Maggie O’Farrell (whose writing I adore) but not as well –yet, she kindly added.

I was impressed she’d come. She’s one of the more mature agents on the circuit and I could have forgiven her if ‘awards fatigue’ had well and truly set in by now.  It was a shame I didn’t get chance to speak to her.

I didn’t recognise anybody else, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there but they certainly weren’t there where I wanted them to be – in the VIP lounge talking to me.  We left early and took our seats at the balcony.

We munched on our first and then second emergency bag of crisps and our eyes passed idly over the starters and champagne being served in the great hall below to the six finalists in each category, their partners, judges published authors, poets, agents and publishers.

When I heard I’d reached the top 30 of novel entrants and received two complimentary tickets as a result, I was ecstatic.  I knew I hadn’t got into the final and this was the next best thing.  Two people surprised me however; my mum and my published friend and chief mentor, Jane Rusbridge.  They both asked if I was disappointed to come so close and yet so far.  I’d never considered disappointment in that context.

But in that instant, when I looked over the balcony at the frenzy and anticipation in which I could almost rub my hands, I understood the question.

I felt a  longing – just a little bit more of something and it might have been me down there – first waiting to find out if I was a category winner, then daring to think I may have won the grand prize of £10,000 and even more importantly, a publishing deal.

The show was 45 minutes late starting but the poetry from around the arena which launched proceedings was an exceptional beginning. We settled into our seats, this was going to be good.  There were highlights, Philip Sheppard on the cello was breathtakingly impressive.  I didn’t know it was possible to get such a sound from one instrument and some instant recording equipment.   And then there was Adam Bojelian, the ten year old, with severe physical disabilities who uses a computer programme to enable him to communicate through recognition of his blinking eye. The pc helped him to ‘read out’ his amusing,  'A Silly Poem’ which was poignantly entertaining and a timely reminder to us all that there is no room for people who give up in the publishing world.  The category winners were humbly overcome. Terry Bamber and Richard Burton of the film-making and publishing world respectively, were so down to earth and enthusiastic, it made me want to excuse myself and go and compose a submission  to them right there and then.

There were some glitches, the odd aspect which wasn’t my thing, but it was a first, the organisers had been enormously ambitious and they’d pulled it off.  To criticise would seem a little churlish.

I was not prepared at all for the coup of the night which was the final.  Catherine Cooper, author of children’s literature, had won the outright prize of £10,000.  With this she’d also secured herself a publishing deal, we heard.  I can only imagine how that would feel.  Charlie Jordan, co-presenter with Tre Azam could hardly contain her excitement when she presented Catherine with The Golden Acorn, a copy of her book which had been published in secret.

But then, from behind the screens appeared more books.  Catherine started autographing copies for the lucky people on stage who’d presented awards.   She’d have some more to sign, we heard, no less than 300 copies of her book had been published and the organisers wondered if she’d sign one for each of the party-goers tonight.  She agreed.  My only observation here was that the books were free.  I would have paid £5 if I’d been asked and Catherine would have made her first earnings from her sales.  She didn’t seem to mind, however.

It was an amazing sight – this ex-school teacher of 20 years standing on stage with the aid of two walking sticks, learning that not one but all of her publishing dreams were being granted.  If was a one off feat. Never again could the books be printed as a surprise, next year it will be expected.

Our signed books in hand, Fin and I stood at the exit. The night was young.  We were wondering what to do and were, admittedly, disappointed that the VIP lounge had now actually closed along with my hopes of schmoozing with agents and publishers.

Terry Bamber emerged from the arena or should I say, sprinted out of the arena.  He had a train to catch.

“Funny speech,” I called after him.  It was.  We started talking about the night, laughing about some of the hitches, praising the event overall.  Fin took it upon herself to mention that people describe my writing as scenic and filmic.  He suggested I email him a copy.

“I can do better than that,” I assured him.  I would give him my first page with my business card stapled to it.

And thus one of my nine envelopes had left my hands.

We skipped off to the tube. That great wheel of the submissions journey which takes me to some dark and yet some wonderful places, continues to turn.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Take Fifty Two

Last week I had to put together a two minute video clip for the Brits Unpublished on the background to my novel, what it’s all about and who I am.  Hmmm.

I know exactly where the idea for my novel came from.  It was the picture in the newspapers of the driver who fell asleep at the steering wheel and caused the Selby railcrash. 

I know exactly what gave the idea substance, another dimension. It was the mother of one of the men who died during the London underground bombings.  She spoke of her forgiveness for the perpetrators.  I found it immensely powerful and thought provoking.

I can catalogue the books I read about coma victims and remember every conversation I had with people who cared for loved ones when they were in a coma.  I recall all my discussions with paramedics and lawyers as well as every detail of my visit to the local law courts. The research process was fascinating and invigorating and I felt very honoured to be able to do it.

I can talk for hours about the story which resulted and could probably prĂ©cis my life if anybody felt inclined to listen.  What I couldn’t do was condense it all into two minutes.  In the space of half an hour I was down to five and a half.

Three days later I had cut it down to three.

By day five I was wondering if they’d really notice that the link was ten seconds longer than two minutes.  

Day six, I checked out the other video offerings; they were all two minutes or under and very professional.
I tried speaking more quickly.  I tried pausing for less time.  

By day seven we were back up to two minutes forty five seconds.

So I cut the part about me.  It’s obvious I’m from the North when you hear me speak – a perfect example of ‘showing’ not ‘telling’.  I cut the description of the story line down to one sentence – they’ll just have to buy the book.  And I cut the piece about the mother of the deceased and that’s just a shame.

One minute fifty four seconds.  I punched the air then played it back.  Apart from the moment when I turned the camera back around to face me in order to switch off recording and it captured the tea-stained coasters, over-filled in-tray, broken pens and post-it notes curling at the edges - it was OK, acceptable, at least.

“Mummy,” my daughter gasped when she saw it.  “You look so ugly in it.  Can you record it again?”

Children!  Don't you just love 'em?  You might need to avert your eyes, clearly, but if you're brave you can see it here:
And I won a competition this week. It's not quite the Bridport but hey! it made my day, anyway.

Have a great week.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Lost a Shilling and found a Sixpence

I was wandering around the World Wide Web, wondering how you spelt ‘six pence’ when it was concerning old British money.  For some reason, I thought I’d seen it written as ‘sixpence’ or maybe it was only ever written as ‘6p’.  And isn’t there a ‘d’ in there somewhere too?  Whatever the right way, (I’ve found all three on the net so I’m none the wiser) some of the definitions for the expression, ‘Lost a shilling and found a sixpence,’ were quite amusing. 

I stumbled upon a debate started in October 2006, which extended into the new year, where an Italian speaker wanted to know what the expression meant.  The respondents got themselves in a bit of a pickle because they were all too young to know whether a sixpence was worth more or less than a shilling.  I am too, I hasten to add, but I went to the type of school where they thought it important to teach you these things – although not that well, clearly, or I would know whether it was ‘sixpence’, ‘six pence’ , ‘6p’ or something with a ‘d’ in it. 

People offered various theories on the thread but interestingly none of them had the categorical answer to the conundrum: lose a shilling, find a sixpence – how happy would you be?

I can answer that.

At the beginning of June I found out that I hadn’t got through to the final of the Brits Unpublished.  I wrote about it in my last post, I hope I wasn’t too grumpy about it.  I’d lost my shilling that day, and my right to the dream that the competition would catapult me into the higher echelons of potential publishing deals.

A couple of weeks later, my attention was drawn to an email offering a bright, shiny sixpence. 
“I’m sorry,” the email said, “that you were not one of the finalists, however you did come very close.”  In fact, Glass Houses had survived into the top 30 of novel entries. 

I picked up my sixpence and held it tightly.  It sparkled.   The time lapse between dropping my shilling and finding my sixpence made it shine all the more brightly.

My prize? Two complimentary tickets to the Awards Ceremony at the O2 Arena in London.  I’m taking my lovely friend, Fiona, one of the many people who is massively supportive of my writing endeavours and the only person not in the business who has read the whole book. 

Others have asked to read it, pleaded in fact, but, well, somebody has to buy it when it’s published, don’t they?

I hope you find your shilling AND a sixpence this week.  And if you know how to spell ‘sixpence’, please do let me know.